When the Liberal government tabled Bills C-45 (aka the Cannabis Act) and C-46 (aka an act to amend the Criminal Code) back in mid-April, it not only set the tone for a future where cannabis is legal, but for sweeping revisions to Canada’s impaired driving laws as well.
The fact that the government is cracking down on impaired driving with Bill C-46 is no surprise. Once cannabis is widely and legally available, there may very well be an increase in the number of people driving under the influence of THC, and regardless of how well you may drive while stoned, it is of utmost importance that the law and penalties regarding impaired driving are clear, reasonable, and fair.
And Bill C-46 does have some major issues, such as its overly harsh penalties. While I agree that we shouldn’t sell alcohol or cannabis to minors, what I don’t agree with is the huge discrepancy in punishment. If you sold alcohol to a minor in Ontario, the most you’d be looking at is 1 year in jail (and you’d most likely get a fine) whereas if you sold cannabis, you’re facing a maximum of 14 years! This wrongly suggests that cannabis is much more harmful than alcohol and serves to further stigmatize cannabis, at least in the eyes of the law.
Bill C-46 also contains sweeping expansions of police powers to conduct roadside drug and alcohol testing that has some critics seriously concerned over its constitutionality.
Even if you’ve never smoked a joint in your life, the proposed changes in Bill C-46 could still affect you, as impaired driving laws apply not only to cannabis, but to alcohol and other drugs as well.
Among other things, if Bill C-46 passes, the police would be able to demand a breath sample during a traffic stop without needing a reasonable suspicion of impairment (which is required under the current law).
We can also expect lively debates over the constitutionality of these expansions to police power and how they relate to Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects us from unreasonable search and seizure.
The new bill would also change the time frame for impaired driving, so instead of committing impaired driving only if you test over the legal limit while driving, you would now be breaking the law if you drove within two hours of being over the legal limit for THC or alcohol.
Last week when contacted by The Hill Times, Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief and current Liberal MP in charge of legalizing cannabis, said that Bill C-46 may actually get passed before Bill C-45, despite the fact that they were tabled at the same time.
The argument being that Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, is particularly complex and they also still need to decide which House Committees will receive the bills.
As Bill Blair was a 30 year veteran of the Toronto Police Service before he got into politics, we’re not exactly surprised that expanding the powers of the police might take priority over legalizing cannabis.
Regardless, ending prohibition is a massive undertaking and these are only the first steps. We’ll be sure to stay tuned and keep you updated!